SB 827: Could This Be the Start of Something Big?

Since ClimatePlan has now weighed in at the New York Times, it seems only fitting that we should dedicate a piece on our blog to the California bill that’s getting national attention: Senate Bill (SB) 827.

To be clear, I’m not writing this post to analyze the bill. If you’re looking for a bill analysis, I encourage you to read some of the great work that’s already been done by ClimatePlan partners; here are a few places to start:

I’m writing because I think SB 827 could be the start of something big.

Going beyond SB 375

For years, we’ve worked on SB 375. Passed in 2008 by then-State-Senator Darrell Steinberg, this law created a new framework for how the state and its regions deal with transportation and land use. Key in that was a connection to climate change. Already, by federal law, regions were required to draft transportation plans every four years. The majority of these plans shoveled money into highways and roads. Beyond a few places like the Bay Area, transit, walking, and bicycling were basically ignored. Finally, with SB 375, these regional transportation plans had to show how they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now we’re seeing regional plans shift where growth happens and how funds are spent. This is still a big deal.

Some have said that the success of SB 375 has been marginal at best. Do I think that’s true? No. I think we — myself included — thought SB 375 was going to be the solution, the silver bullet to solve California’s problems around gridlock, sprawl, and rampant inequities. But SB 375 couldn’t do all that.

Action needed

We need local jurisdictions — and some are already leading the charge — to step up. They’re the ones who actually control growth. We need cities and counties to plan and build growth in a new and better way: in a way that increases economic opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And here’s where SB 827 has started the conversation: it proposes to open up areas around public transit to the kind of development that most local jurisdictions have not allowed. It pushes them to deliver on the numbers of new homes that are really needed, in the places — near transit — that they’re needed.

Do we have a position on SB 827? No. Many of ClimatePlan’s partners have already explained why SB 827 in its current form can’t get us there, so I won’t go into detail on that front, beyond what I say above.

But I do think SB 827 can be a catalyst. For years, we’ve said that we need equitable infill development — which means that we need to create housing opportunities for all income levels in our existing communities. We’ve said we need to curb sprawl and greenfield development. We’ve said we need to invest in equitable transit-oriented development — which is simply more affordable housing near transit.

We know what will work. As I said in our letter to the editor to The New York Times, research shows that low-income households drive 25 to 35 percent fewer miles when living within a half-mile of transit. If we’re serious about addressing the affordable housing crisis, increasing economic opportunities for low-income communities, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building only market-rate homes will not help us achieve those goals. And while we’re doing this work, we cannot forget or ignore rural or more exurban communities, where these strategies will need to be modified.

The time is right to think big

We’ve said all this. But now, with SB 827, we’re being asked to act.

This bill has created so much discussion around how the state should help local communities act to achieve climate and equity goals. Much work around equitable and sustainable development is happening at the local and regional level, and our statewide housing partners have been working on this for years.

I see SB 827 as the signal that the time is right. We have the momentum to think big and get creative. I don’t have a crystal ball; I can’t see what happens in the future with SB 827.

Here’s what I can see: right now, we have an opportunity to work together to draft the solutions to attack the issues before us.

Here at ClimatePlan, we’re excited to convene our partners on this — leveraging the expertise from our local, regional, and statewide partners to draft and champion the policy that will get us to our goals.

SB 375 provided the vision. SB 827 has created the opportunity. Let’s seize this moment for real solutions. 

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